Gaming Log: The Division 2, Knack 2, and The Crew 2

Black Sony Playstation 4 Pro with a black controller laying against it on a beige table with a gray background.
Image Source: https://www.digitaltrends.com/video-game-system-reviews/sony-playstation-4-pro-review/

Over the “Lockdown” period, I’ve played quite a few games (although not as many or as much as one might think). I’ve converted my class to “Distance Education,” so much of my time has been devoted to that–grading, checking email, and the like. However, I managed to finish 3 games over the period (all strangely sequels with the number “2” in the title–go figure), so I thought I’d briefly talk about them.

The Division 2

This is a game that I finished during the Covid-19 Pandemic and “quarantine.” It is a game about reforging America (specifically during Washington DC) during a Pandemic. So, to use the current term for this one, it was so “meta.” I was playing a game that had elements of what was happening in the real world. Now, to be clear, the pandemic in the game is mostly over and you’re using your “military” training to “rebuild” the city from roving “factions.” In a way, this is a power fantasy of good over evil, or what I wish both Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead had been instead of the “man’s inhumanity to man” plot lines that inhabit most of both shows’ runs. I finished the “main” game and saw the “ending” cinematic, before the game “reset” and tasked you to redo the most of the game over again–just on a harder difficulty (won’t go into more detain due to spoilers on how that happens in the game). I finished the “main” story-line and I’m happy with the resolution of the game, so I will be moving on to other games. I thought it was worth the purchase price (I got it on sale), and enjoyed my time with it. GRADE: B

Knack 2

Okay, so Knack 2 is something that only I like. It (along with the first game in the series) is roundly criticized as a game that should not exist. It is an “old” design, repetitive, and the story is too “traditional” as it is “good vs evil.” Or, at least that is the critical and popular opinion. However, Knack 2 is definitely a game for one person–me! I love the series. Knack has its issues, don’t get me wrong. It is no Grand Theft Auto (GTA) by any means, but that’s not a bad thing. Gamers decry the fact that there’s no variety in the game offerings any more, but just as I am NOT the target audience for The Hunger Games, so too are most gamers NOT the target audience for this series and it seems to make them angry–just look at the level of vitriol because this series exists. However, the game is an action platformer that I can put my brain on cruise control as I play. It does have some weird difficulty spikes, but for the most part, is simply mindless fun–something that I want after a hard week of reading, writing, and grading papers. Over the break, I’ve finished the “main” story and I’m going back and replaying it to try to get all the trophies (100%) for the game. Again, although no one else likes its combat and platforming, I really do and I hope they keep making them despite the gamer “rage” that it seems to inspire. Grade: B

The Crew 2

This is a racing game that I finished recently. It is set in a (truncated) open world version of America and let’s you travel to various places in America while taking parts in different race types. You can either race in various events scattered throughout the map or you can drive the open world and explore. They have many U.S. cities (although outside of New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake, and maybe Seattle, as well, the smaller cities don’t have any correlation to what they look like in real life. They even have a version of Chattanooga & Nashville (areas where I live/work as Murfreesboro is about a 30 minute drive from Nashville) in the game. Surprisingly, no Atlanta or Boston–two cities that are more populous/well known than Chattanooga or Nashville, but hey, I’ll take it. I finished the game and all the event types and I’ve done every trophy except for two. Unfortuntely, both are multiplayer trophies and depend on getting someone else online to do those two activities with you. I tried over the weekend, but no one wanted to “join” me, so it’ll be a matter of luck to get those now–when the game was “young,” tons of people wanted to do those trophies–now, not so much.

It’s a shame, really, as the game was technically a Christmas gift. I’d really like to get those two trophies to get 100% to show that I really enjoyed the game and my time with it. A mini-rant: game designers–please, please, please STOP putting multiplayer trophies in your games. They work “early” in the game’s life-cycle (sometimes), but are almost always impossible to get without “boosting” or “cheating” in some way later on. Yes, we know you’d like us to do your marketing for you by convincing our friends to buy your game. No, we’re not going to do this (in most cases), so please stop. Also, while you’re at it, please stop with the “Drifting and drift events.” They’re not good in this game and they’re rarely ever good in racing games, in general. Thank you. Mini-rant over.

Outside of the fact that I’ll probably be stuck at 96% completion for the rest of my time with the game, I enjoyed it. I hope they bring out a sequel for the next generation consoles (without multiplayer trophies this time).

Edit: I was able to find a player who wanted to “partner” up and I got one of the two trophies that I needed. So now, I’m currently at 98%. It was super-lucky that the player wanted to partner up — this player just wanted to drive around (which is fine–that’s mostly what I do in this game which is why it has taken me so long to get all the activities done), so I wasn’t able to get the other trophy done — which is to “team up” to do an event, and this player didn’t seem to want to do this. Still, I was happy and surprised to knock out one of these two trophies.

Grade B.

Sidney


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BioWare is Apparently Redesigning Anthem–and it Couldn’t Come at a Better Time.

Image of four Powersuits (Javelins) hovering and flying over a futuristic forest world.
Image Source: https://www.extremetech.com/gaming/306094-bioware-announces-it-will-radically-redesign-fix-anthem

So, this blog post was originally going to be about the Oscars–and hopefully, that will still come (although not in any traditional form), but as I was brainstorming what I wanted to say about the Oscars this year that hasn’t already been remarked on, I happened across a small gaming news story that caught my eye. Anthem is set to be overhauled in the future.

Anthem–BioWare’s Black Eye

I’ve made no bones about the fact that I was wary from the very start about Anthem as a game. The reveal of it on Microsoft’s XBox One stage left a sour taste in my mouth from a once avowed “platform agnostic” game publisher (EA). After the game was released, I followed the following PR storm and resulting low review scores on YouTube and in the gaming press. I resolved that I would only pick up Anthem at the sub $10 mark as I feel EA simply no longer cares about its customers. Yes, the game had been in development for quite a while and thanks to a report by game’s journalist, Jason Schreier, we’ve been told that the development of the game was troubled. Yes, I understand that EA is a business and that they need to recupe their investment, but their business is games, not investors, and just like Hollywood, sometimes you have to sink more money into a floundering project unless you want to burn your customers’ goodwill for your future products.

Yes, I Bought Anthem–for a Song

So, yes, I bought Anthem. However, I didn’t lose money as I purchased it from Gamestop for $5. That’s right, Gamestop had bought so many copies and had such a surplus from people not buying the game in the quantities that GS had hoped, that they had to slash the price in order to clear inventory and recoup some investment on the game. I know how retail works, and GS likely purchased the game for approx. half of list price (in bulk quantities, hence the discount–or at least that’s the way it was for books back in the day when I worked at a bookstore). They likely didn’t eat the full $60 price tag, but even at half price, $30 is nothing to sneeze at. Usually stores will discount to around $10 or so to really clear inventory–so to have it at $5 likely means that GS bet big with Anthem (and lost).

Anthem Devs: Get Rid of the Tombs Mission

The reason why the report is timely is that I just stopped playing Anthem over the past weekend. There is a “roadblock” mission (known to the community as the Tombs’ Mission. Effectively, it is a roadblock to throttle player progress through the game since the game actually is much shorter than (apparently) it was designed to be and acts as an artificial barrier impeding progress. I knew the mission was there before I bought it, but I hit it this weekend and after looking at the requirements to complete it, I said, “No, I’m out.” I will NOT pick up the game again to play until that mission is gone (or heavily modified in some way so that it doesn’t throttle progression). I play games for FUN. If you can’t be bothered to design a game that is fun (for whatever the reason, I won’t play it; simple as that). If BioWare wants me to play their game, be invested in their world, and (what they really want) have a chance of selling me on content after I’ve purchased the game, then they have to come up with a compelling game that warrants my initial purchase (& any subsequent time and money that I choose to sink into the game).

Companies have to remember: the purchaser is NOT obligated to give you money for your product (or to continue funding that product) just on the publisher’s say so. Nor is the audience of the company its shareholders, but rather its customers.

No customers = no company. I don’t care how many shareholders you have or how much investment you have–if the customer doesn’t buy it, no one’s going to fund you. Right now, it seems like BioWare is headed in the right direction–time will tell, however, if I ever pick up Anthem again. (Psst, BioWare, if anyone is listening/reading, then a good first step would be to get rid of the Tombs’ Mission. Just sayin’.)

Sidney


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Why I Play Video Games


So, every Friday one my favorite YouTube channels puts out a list video in which they create a list based on video game related topics. As I have a preference for PlayStation, this is right up my alley and is “destination TV” for me after a long week. The channel is called (of course) Playstation Access and a couple of weeks ago, one of the presenters, Rob, listed 7 reason why he liked playing games.

While reasons #1 (escapism and “becoming” the character interactively), #4 (new narrative structures–as the director and writer of your own individual journey) and #7 (keeping the inner child alive) are particular ones that speak to me. However, I wanted to just briefly articulate a couple of the more important reasons why I play games personally.

The Story

So, with Grim Dark narratives like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad, it is so very hard to find really good shows that aren’t characters just “crapping” on one another for the prurient interests of the viewer. Shows like this, to me, are anathema and are just like people jamming the interstate to look at the horrific crash that has occurred. Video games allow me to actually engage with stories and characters that I truly enjoy. The “hero” hasn’t gone, but rather morphed into the video game protagonist. Yeah, sure, there are games that are more akin to those hated shows above, (the Bioshock games come quickly to mind), but generally speaking, most games task you with being, if not the hero, then a protagonist that you can identify with and (usually) enjoy playing: Ryder and Commander Shepherd from the Mass Effect series comes quickly to mind here. It seems as if the protagonist “hero” has pretty much come into his or her own here.

Worldbuilding

An interesting corollary to the story (or narrative) is the focus on setting and world building in video games. Sure, the visuals are nice, but the best games have “atmosphere.” Due to the interactive nature of games, it is very easy to “fall in” to the world (much like the way description works in books). It is really nice to be able to play characters who you like and identify with in worlds that seem real and lived in.

Sidney


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Game Day: The Confluence of Gaming and Writing

Man typing outside at a table with his laptop, coffee, plant, water, and writing journal
Image Source: https://medium.com/read-watch-write-repeat/pursue-your-writing-projects-on-the-weekend-6fcee00848dc

Fall is here and I’m back. I’m in the midst of a flurry of last minute reading for my test on Friday. I don’t really feel all that confident about it, but it is what it is. I wish that I had perfect recall–at least on names. I really want to mention theorists and scholars as a lot of the test depends on “name dropping,” but, except for the biggest names in the field, most names are gone the moment I close/put down the book. Sigh.

Anyway, I’m back after a nearly two week drought. It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to write, but between grading and reading, I just don’t seem to find an hour in the day anymore to write. However, I get discourage when my favorite YouTubers don’t post on time, or go long periods without putting up new videos, and here I am, doing the same. So, not to be hypocritical, I thought I’d take a quick “study break” and dash out a blog post before reading some more and then going to bed.

Saturday is “Game Day”

So, Americans will get this pun as, I feel, will a lot of Europeans. In both countries, Saturday is a prime “sports day.” For Americans, at this time of year, it is “college football,” which is American football played among various university teams in which there are long-standing rivalries. In Europe, a lot of “football” matches (soccer) takes place, again with long-standing rivalries.

However, for me, Saturdays are my primary “gaming” days. Friday evenings are usually too draining, so I don’t usually start my gaming until Saturdays. While I use to bounce from game to game, what I’ve been doing these past couple of years is really investing in one game every week and really digging into it and making myself a “master” at the game (Assassin’s Creed Origins, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, and Gravel are all games in which I earned the maximum achievement for–the Platinum Trophy–in terms of achievement.

My “backlog” of games to be finished, however, continues to grow, so much so that I’ve come to despair of ever finishing them all before the next “generation” of consoles (i.e., the PS5) arrives Holiday 2020. Recently, however, I found myself switching between two games (God of War and Rise of the Tomb Raider, 20th Anniversary Edition) on a biweekly basis–one week I play GoW and the next week I play RotTR. One game is a Physical game and the other is a Digital Game. When I finish either of these two games, my plan is to simply pick another in the respective genre and start playing. In this manner, I hope to bring my “backlog” down to a reasonable size.

Saturday Morning = Needs to be “Writing Game Day”

My goal is to get to where I can do the same on Saturdays for my writing. Usually Saturday mornings are when I’m just starting to recover from the week, and while I don’t feel fully creative (that’s actually Saturday evenings when I’m usually watching a movie), I do feel much more more creative.

While I can “write” during that time (draft), what I’d like to be able to do is to work on Rough Drafts during that time. I feel that I can probably write (draft) on the current story that I’m working on during the week by creating scenic “milestones” to get to for that week. However, like my gaming, I’d like to have a second project in the wings that I could write out (longhand with a pen/pencil) every weekend and then when I finish the “weekday” draft, I’d move the weekend draft to that spot, start writing (drafting) it, and then move in new Rough Draft during the weekend spot.

I wanted to start that this previous weekend, but was enamored with “cleaning,” that I, of course, procrastinated until it was too late. I’m going to try it again this upcoming weekend and I hope by putting it up on the blog, I will be able to hold myself accountable for actually getting it done. I’m pretty sure two projects in writing, just like gaming, is probably going to be my limit, but, just like gaming, my goal is to shrink my “backlog” of games and writing projects down and get them finished, so any strategy that I find that I can use to do that successfully is one that I plan to implement (& hopefully use it to thrive as a writer).

Sidney


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It’s All About the Games, EA!

Image Source: https://www.dexerto.com/business/ea-shares-plummet-after-battlefield-v-delay-announcement-151830

Recently, Andrew Wilson, the current CEO of EA said some things in an investor call that illustrate why I no longer purchase EA games until they are severely discounted, if at all. His comments underscore a deeper problem with EA. It, as a company, is far too invested in what its investors want and not enough invested in what its customers want.

The Customer is Always Right

“The customer is always right” is the primary adage in the business world–that is, until you reach a certain size (Megacorporation size, is what I term it) where the customer no longer becomes the focus (or core) of your business. EA is a gaming company–it creates video games and sells them to people (customers) who enjoy playing them as a diversion or hobby. Like all entertainment media, there is a risk involved that the buying public will not like the product and you will lose money. It is in EA’s interests to minimize this as best they can in order to make a profit, stay in business, and grow as company.

The problem is that based on Andrew Wilson’s comments in the investor call, (and I’m paraphrasing here), he seems to think that most of the problem is a presentation one and that the old ways of marketing don’t work and the company needs to have a conversation with its fans.

Andrew, no. Just no.

I’ve been a “gamer” since 1984 and I saw the rise of EA (then Electronic Arts) from a small game publisher of unique titles (Starflight, Skyfox, The Bard’s Tale series) to their growth with sports titles, into the megacorporation they are now. In their early years, they were focused on compelling content and the selling of games.

Now they are too focused on the idea of services, gimmicks, and the latest gaming crazes put into their games to increase their revenue, whether or not it makes sense to their games (loot boxes anyone?) How does this serve consumer (and please don’t give me the laughable line about “added value”–which is corporate doublespeak for pay us now for the game and pay us later for additional stuff we created in the hopes you’ll give us more money for the same product so we don’t have to take a risk and develop a new product you, as consumers, might not buy from us because its not very good).

The Investor Wants a Quick and Maximum Return on Their Investment

While not wrong, investors don’t really care about games as “art” (good experiences for their company’s customers). They want to get a much money back from their original investment as possible in as short amount of time as possible. Their goals are almost antithetical to that of the company in which they invest (in most cases). They look for the quickest, easiest way of getting money, whether or not that makes sense for the business in question. Don’t believe me, well when EA’s prime competitor Activision, fell on hard times recently, an unnamed investor apparently wondered why Activision didn’t have a game like EA’s suddenly (& surprisingly) successful Apex Legends in its portfolio–or so the story goes–again paraphrasing from sources.

Say what? EA itself didn’t know it was going to be a hit, so how could Activision have known? And now that they do know, what is Activision supposed to do? Make an Apex Legend “clone?” But wait, we already have Apex Legend, why do we need another?

In that particular investor’s mind (which I’m going to extend to cover to most megacorp investors), that thing “over there” is successful and “printing money,” so go do that thing and then we’ll be just as successful and printing money too. The problem is, that in most cases, especially entertainment, that’s not how success works. It has to be both very good and, at the very least, at least mildly original (but usually highly so, or at least original enough within a fairly established genre–which is what Apex Legends was, a “new” & “fresh” take on the Battle Royal genre). Derivatives rarely fare as well as the original, but try telling that to an investor–good luck with that!

Simply put, EA won’t get itself under control (and no other gaming company will either) until it remembers that investors are not its focus–its customers are. Stop trying to “monetize” customers with gimmicks and services and the like for your investors and return to creating compelling content that customers crave and cannot bear to be without and you’ll find that customers will buy your products and your quarters will be (mostly) safe.

In other words, you know those “games” that you think are “old fashioned?” They’re actually what we, your customers, are looking for. Please stop treating us a “resource” to be exploited, but as customers looking for a great product with great value at a reasonable price. If your investors don’t like it, then I humbly submit, that may very well be where your problem, as a megacorporation, actually lies.

Sidney

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What’s on My Bookshelf: Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (PlayStation Game)

Jak and Daxter cover image: Jak and Daxter headshots and an advanced aircraft being chase and fired on by another aircraft over a blue waterfall.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jak_and_Daxter:_The_Lost_Frontier

So, this is a game that I bought because it is part of the Jak and Daxter series. I enjoyed Jak 3 and Jak X Combat Racing. I thought that I would also enjoy this one, but unfortunately, Naughty Dog, the original creators of the series, moved on to work on what I presume would become the Uncharted series. The studio that took over, High Impact Games, while talented, just didn’t manage to match the same level of storytelling and characterization of the Naughty Dog created games in the series. This is one that had potential, but just didn’t come together. It felt like someone else “appropriating” a series by its original creator, but didn’t have the same level of inventiveness and creativity that made the original series so special.

Critique, Not Trashing

While there’s a lot of trashing other people’s work on the internet these days (and while that’s the thing to do), it’s not what I’m going to do. While I bought the game (& have it here still–I didn’t trade it in or anything), I quickly grew bored of the game and didn’t finish it. I think I abandoned it after the third major level. The story introduced a new set of characters and one who was a new potential rival to Jak for Kira’s affections, but he didn’t work at all as either a character or a plot device. I just recently watched a Let’s Play to see the complete ending of the game (again, I abandoned it myself early on), and even watching the game-play, there was just something off about the writing in general, and the character in particular.

Jak, Not Jak

The same could be said of the protagonist, Jak, who along with his side-kick Daxter, are the heart and soul of the series. While they do quip with one another, they aren’t truly characters in the way they were in other Jak games, especially 1 & 3. I’ve played and finished the entire Jak series (except for Jak 2 as it was too hard to go back to after finishing, 3 and then one). I went on to Jak X: Combat Racing when I abandoned Jak 2 and the gang were right on form. Cruising online, others note that this is the worst of the Jak games–while I won’t go that far, it certainly is missing that extra special sauce that Naughty Dog was able to deliver in the original games. I think it would have been better if the studio, High Impact, had been allowed to work on their own IP, where they could have developed their own characters, rather than trying to mimic what Naughty Dog had already done. Yes, I know the game is a port to the PS2 of a PSP game, but still, when it bears the Jak and Daxter name brand, there are certain expectations that name come with and, for me, the title just didn’t reach them due to story and characterization issues.

Overall Grade: I

Okay, so its not fair for me to rate a game that I didn’t finish–I had to experience the story through Let’s Plays and they aren’t a true indication of a game’s game-play, just the game’s narrative. The fact that I pride myself on getting to the end to see the credits run at the very least, and the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to do that for this game, however, should say how disappointed I was in it, however. This is one of those games that could have been, should have been, great, but ultimately, for me, it wasn’t.

Oh well, not so fond memories for this one . . . still, hats off to the devs for finishing it. There are so many “unfinished” games these days (Mass Effect Andromeda, I’m looking at you), that at least they have that as a kudos to them).

Sidney




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7 Games that Influenced Me: Golden Axe

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Okay, so this blog post was inspired by a video on Playstation Access that talks about 7 different games that inspired the staff at Playstation Access.  Gaming, along with reading and writing, and watching movies and television shows, make up a large part of my free time, so I thought that I would also do a blog post that covers seven influential games for me.  I will revisit this post several different times, each time updating it with a new game.

Here are mine are in no particular order:

Golden Axe

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So, I puzzled and puzzed until my puzzler was sore for what I should do for my last game for this post.  I have so many games that I’ve played that have had an influence of on me.  I had to really think about a game that affected me and I finally settled on Golden Axe.  As a beat’em-up much like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage, where you take control of a character and use the controller to “beat up” your opponents.  While inevitably violent, most of these were never really bloody in the way a “slasher” film might be–the violence (to me) was always cartoony (a la Tom & Jerry).  Essentially, Golden Axe is a side-scrolling game you move from right to left defeating monsters and creatures.  You choose from one of three characters and you can play it alone or cooperatively with a 2nd player.  In the late 1980s, Golden Axe was the closest thing to fantasy movies like Conan the Barbarian and fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings.  There is even a magic system using gnomes and jars that added variety to the game.  I cannot tell you how many times that I’ve played this game or how many times that I’ve enjoyed going all the way though it, either by myself or with my uncle.  This game is one that I played all through my teenaga years.

Street Fighter 2

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Street Fighter 2 is a game that I discovered while I was in college.  It became super popular  during my second year at UT Knoxville.  As a fighting game, it allowed one player to challenge the computer or 2 players to challenge each other.  It became all of the craze at the Gameroom at the University Center and in the “arcades” that lingered on “The Strip” (the road just off of campus that divided the campus from the off-campus apartments and led into downtown Knoxville).  The game was intense and even though there were only 8 characters at the time, they were so different that it was easy to pick a favorite and learn all their moves and then challenge others (strangers or friends).  I remember that my best friend from high school came up to UT Knoxville during my 2nd year there and we used to have epic battles on this game.  My main character was Chun Li because I loved her speed and agility and her move set (especially the Lightning Kick and the Spinning Bird Kick).  My friend played Bison (aka M Bison) because of his power and powerful moves.  I was so in love with the game, that I asked for a Super Nintendo just to get an arcade perfect port of the game (I didn’t need to because a later edition also came to the Sega Genesis a little later on with the ability to fight against the same character that you were playing).  This is one that my uncle and I had loads of fun playing, although I think he was a little disappointed that it was just a “fighter” and didn’t have more depth.  For me, however, I was enraptured.  Once I learned Chun Li’s moves, it became a mini-game to see how I could beat opponents with as many of the different moves as possible.  This game to this day, still is one that when the latest iteration comes out, I will at least give it a look/play, even when it steps away from the core gameplay.  SFII as it is affectionately known by fans is a game that truly had an effect on me as a gamer.

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The Bard’s Tale II: The Destiny Knight

So this game is one that I played religiously during my childhood.  I got into D&D through the boardgame Dungeon! and bought quite a few D&D and AD&D rulebooks and supplements.  I saw an ad for this in a magazine (I think) and I got it for a birthday (or Christmas) present.  Rolling a character and creating a party was immensely fun for me as was adventuring in the town of Skara Brae.  I, along with my uncle, scouraded the land and the dungeons.  I seem to remember that there were seven dungeons (not including the “starter” dungeon in the world.  We managed to map out and beat the first two dungeons (if I remember correctly), but not the “starter” dungeon, weirdly enough.  I think we might have gotten one finished, but I’m not really sure at this point.  I remember the puzzle that stopped us, “What is No. 9’s favorite wine?”  I’m assuming there was a clue that we missed somewhere because I think this was in Dungeon 4 (???), but where ever, it stopped our progress.  Even though we didn’t technically finish/beat the game, we spent hours and hours on the game, and even invested in graph paper to map out the dungeons and the game world (before “automapping” was a thing.  Even without finishing, the experience of the playing the game and creating characters still helps to inform me as a writer today and that’s why this game is one of the influential games of my childhood.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

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So, Call of Duty was a franchise that I knew a lot about, but didn’t actually pick up until Treyarch’s World War II game, Call of Duty 3, and I really liked the game, but shortly thereafter Infinity Ward announced that they were moving out of the WWII arena and moving the game into the modern era.  I really found this to be provocative and I followed the development with considerable interest.  When the game released, the campaign just blew my mind.  It was tense, fun, and graphically well done and I found it to be one of the best stories that I’ve experienced in any medium.  The online component also sucked me in after I finished main campaign several times.  It extended my enjoyment of the game and I played the online portion religiously for the better part of two years.  Modern Warfare is a game that not just influenced me, but also influenced the entire gaming industry for the better part of 8-10 years.

 

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Galaga/Galaxian

Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit on this entry as technically, Galaga and Galaxian are two separate games.  However, they came out at about the same time, they play so similar, and they are ones where I played either of them no matter what, depending on the location–some places would have one, other places would have the other, and I personally had no preference between the two.  Basically, these two games are what’s known in the gamer community as “top down shooters.”  You shoot aliens as they move though space, but your view is from the top as if you were looking down on your own ship and the aliens.  Much like the classic game Space Invaders you find your ship confined to the bottom of the screen, but instead of aliens coming down in straight lines, they swirl around the play area, making your job of hitting them, much harder.  On Galaga,  there is an extra wrinkle in that some ships are able to send out a tractor beam and capture your ship.  If it was your last ship, then the game is over, but if you have another ship and can hit the alien that has captured your ship, you have the chance of getting it back and doubling your firepower.  It has a great risk/reward system in place with that mechanic.  Galaxian is essentially the exact same game minus the alien ship with its tractor beam.  These two games were favorites of mine and earned my quarters every time I saw them in an arcade, or where ever they might have been located.

Tomb Raider 2

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This is probably the most influential game for me in the “modern” era of gaming in that it was the one game that I played when I still had my entire family available to me (my uncle, my grandmother, and my grandfather), so there is a nostalgia factor with this game.  Most people, scholars/journalists will cite the rise of Lara Croft as this feminist icon in video games, and while this is true, TRII is most notable to me because of its proto-narrative structure.  From the introductory cutscene, all through the in-game dialogue, you can see a narrative trying to be told by the game designers.  While not nearly as polished as a movie, you can see early attempts at dramatic irony, a sarcastic heroine, and a narrative structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution), all wrapped around a larger-than-life character in Lara Croft.  There was also an element of “world-hopping” similar to the best adventure movies with the game taking place in various real-world settings–from Venice, to Nepal, to other exotic locals.  However, what I remember most about the game were the puzzles.  The puzzles were clever and inventive.  I remember, up until that point, I hated games with heavy puzzle elements because I felt that I just wasn’t very good with them–however, TR II, helped to change that for me.  With help from my uncle, I began to be more patient with puzzles and began to really enjoy the challenge of trying to figure them out.  We had the “cluebook,” and used it early on in the game, but later in the game, it became a secondary challenge, a mark of distinction, and a badge of honor, to see if we could figure out the puzzle without the cluebook.  I credit this game with helping me become a better “library assistant” as it came out during the first two years of my time at the CPL.  This game had a profound effect on me during my mid-20s and is still one of my favorite games of all time.

Pacman (Arcade and Atari 2600 editions)

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Image Source: https://www.retrogames.cz/play_017-Atari2600.php

So, Pacman had a profound effect on me.  While it was the most popular of the 1980s “first wave” of video games, it was also influential on me in that it was a game that helped to cement my  love of video games at that particular time period.  It wasn’t the first video game I played (no, that honor goes to Galaga), but it was the game (along with Galaga, Galaxian, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Turbo, Spyhunter, and Missle Command) that set me firmly in the camp of a gamer.  While I was never really very good at the game–I never wanted to memorize patterns–I always just wanted to “play” it, it still was something that I would always gravitate to and want to play.  If I (or my parents) ever had spare quarters, they would end up in the cabinet at some point before the night was over.  When the game came home, I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t exactly match the arcade version, but I can still remember hearing the “dun-na-na-dunm” of the start-up screen as Santa’s elves set it up on Christmas Eve.   For a game version that I was mildly disappointed with initially, I have to say I spent an inordinate amount of time playing it.  I really liked the game and it was very influential for me as both a child and a gamer.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

 

 

Weekend Gamer–September 30, 2018 Edition

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Image Source: https://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-weekend-gamer-on/

So, I’ll keep these gamer updates on the smaller side as they are some of the least popular posts on the blog.  I’m not really sure why as video games have become as intricate and as narrative-based as any movie or novel.  For me, they represent the “third pillar” of the trifecta of popular culture/entertainment.  Sure, the controller looks complicated and adds a layer of abstraction that many non-gamers find daunting, but truly, many of the abstractions in the video game world exist elsewhere–we just choose to ignore them because they fit our paradigm (dice and playing pieces in board games and role-playing games, complicated rules and exceptions for card-based games). Oh well, to each his or her own–if video games aren’t really to the taste of the mainstream, then I’ll just continue to play them and talk about them, but not evangelize them.

This week, a couple of smaller games went on sale that I’ve desperately been wanting after seeing them profiled on YouTube in various places.  I’ll only talk about them briefly and save a full discussion of them for a full blog post.  Both games are ones that hope will help me with writing projects down the line, so not only do I hope they will be fun, but also inspiring.

Sine More EX

This is an arcade shooter (in the same vein of the old school game DEFENDER) and is one that I hope will help me define the setting of Project Skye a little bit better.  You take the controls of a pilot of a retro-futuristic plane out for revenge.  You blast your way through wildly inventive levels with unique and varied bosses.  I only managed to get through the first level and part of the second so far, but I found it to be a fun romp so far (if a bit serious and heavy-handed in terms of the plot–a WWII analogy with dropping a nuclear bomb on a civilization in an arcade shooter).  Still, this is one I’m playing mostly for the setting inspiration than actually playing for the plot.

 

Battlechasers: Nightwar

This is a game based on the graphic novel series, Battlechasers which I happened to pick up a local used bookstore.  I really liked the graphic novel and I’ve been a fan of the artist Joe Madureia every since I picked up a random issue of his work on the Uncanny X-Men several years ago by chance.  I’ve been following the development of this game since its announcement and really wanted to get it on its release, but discovered that it would probably be better suited for a sale.  The game has actually gone on sale several times already since its release earlier this year (as recent as about 2-3 weeks ago), but something would always come up and I wouldn’t be able to get a voucher code to add funds in time before the sale went away.  I recently decided that I should just do that every time my balance dropped below a certain amount, and lo and behold it is was back on sale this week, so I snatched it up.  It is a turn-based RPG in the style of the older Final Fantasy games, but so far, I’m really enjoying it.  Playing characters based on a graphic novel that I like really helps, although their voices don’t quite match the vision that I had in my head, but that’s really a small complaint.

Well, again, keeping is short as people don’t really read the gamer updates, that’s all for today.  Have a good one!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

Gaming Over the Weekend

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So, this weekend, I didn’t really do a whole lot of gaming, but I did get in some gaming to help with the work-life balance.  I only played three games this weekend, so I’ll talk about each one below.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

So, this was the first game that I played this weekend and I tried to do one main story mission and a couple of side missions.  I’m slowly closing in on the end of the game, but the super high difficulty that I’m currently playing at in the game world means that I go down with only two or three hits, so I have to play it pretty slowly and tactically (which, I’m sure is the reason why the game designers required me to move to this difficulty to continue to get in-game rewards for completing actions).  Without this artificial spike in difficulty, I would have been close to finishing (if not already finished).  As it is, I’m about halfway through this province, with 2 or three provinces left, not including side missions, of which I have about 2-3 in each of the game’s 10+ provinces. Hopefully, even at this reduced pace, I should finish the game sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving and I can move on and give my time fully to another game.

Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4 Exclusive)

This one is an open world game in which you get to play as Spider-Man (& Peter Parker).  Those who have followed the blog know that Spider-Man is my favorite Marvel hero and they do him justice in this game.  The animations are spectacular (pardon the pun) and the story (even in the beginning) is amazing (again, pardon the pun).  Insomniac Studios has redeemed themselves in my eyes for their X-Box exclusive game Sunset Overddrive and their lackluster game Fuse, both of which turned me against them, but with the soft reboot of Ratchet and Clank and now, Marvel’s Spider-Man (both PS4 exclusives), I’m now back in their camp.  I’d love for them to cement a partnership with Sony, but I think they are too independent for that to happen.  However, the Spider-Man game is simple Astonishing (again, pardon the pun), from suits, to gameplay, to everything, this game if filled with Spider-Man lore.  I can’t wait to play more!

The Crew

This game is a guilty pleasure for me in that I’ve finished it and I’ve done all that I intend to do with it in terms of gameplay, story, exploration, etc.  However, I just love cruising around the truncated map of the U.S. for some reason.  My original love of the game didn’t come from the story which wasn’t great, but wasn’t as bad as many made it out to be (a revenge fantasy of sorts, against an enemy who killed the protagonist’s brother to take over his number one position in the car gang the brother started.  The kid brother did time for the crime that he didn’t commit and so he joins the gang to go after this killer once he gets out.  Typical story that you’ve seen a million times before.  What I loved about the game, however, is the “exploration” that you get to do in the game.  I love driving the roads to see what’s out there, off the beaten path.  That’s what I’m looking forward to in the sequel, The Crew 2 whenever I get it.  Still, there’s just something about driving those roads, even though I already know what’s around the corner, that still compels me to pull it out and play it for an hour or two each weekend.

Well, that’s it for this weekend–hopefully, I’ll be able to report a more diverse group of games next week (fingers crossed).  Have a good day!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 25)

 

 

 

Game Mode On: Weekend Gaming (3 Aug. 2018)

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Man with a Playstation 4 controller in his hand looking at a Playstation 4 Menu Screen. Image Source: YouTube.com (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MZ1Hn260SQ)

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) Page Count: 23 (+1)
    Goal = 3 Pages a week. 20/20 Pages (for artist). 23/32 pages (for completion of 1st issue)
    Actual = 2/5 Pages done so far this week.
    Wrote a story page last night. Reorganized the project so that it shows Issue 1. Also started putting down Acts and Scenes for a Screenplay version of the story.
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)
    (Researched an article on Whaling, think that I have the two characters–a brother and a sister who are on the opposite sides of the issue.  Still, no Writing so far). Need to find a place to work in revisions–I can draft new material just fine, but I don’t seem to have any time to work on “drafting” revisions.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
  • For School:
    Afrofuturism (by Ytasha Womack): This book describes the academic genre of Afrofuturism (essentially African American Science Fiction that deals with social issues in culture).  I just finished Chapter 5 today and I’m at the beginning of Chapter 6 (this book has 10 chapters).
    Wrote out a fairly extensive list of possible research topics to explore from chapter 5. Really intriguing book.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

So, this weekend I’m hoping to do a little gaming (fingers crossed), but before I do, I wanted to update you all on my gaming efforts last week. Before I do that, however, I also want to note that this is the first Saturday of the month.  I will be sending my artist the comic book script pages that I’ve done so far and will be sending it to him (along with a collaboration agreement which he asked for–although he did ask for it after we send the proposal to the publisher but I found one that I really like). And now, on to the games:

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

So I didn’t really get very far on this one–I was able to do a couple of “Main Story missions, but didn’t really get to do much in the way of the “side missions.” I have one “main” mission remaining and then it is only the side missions for that province and then I should be finished with that particular province.  I estimate that I’ll have about 5-6 more provinces (all 5 star difficulty) remaining, but unfortunately, only playing once a week, there’s only so much that I can get done on such a large (& long) game.

Final Fantasy XV

It really is true–when I get stuck on a game, that’s my brain’s way of telling me to take a break. I failed the mission that had me stumped a couple of more times (mostly due to boneheaded mistakes on my part & relearning the game’s controls), but I was able to get past that mission and back into the open world. There was another fairly long “side” mission that became available and I almost took it, but decided that I’d been away from the story long enough, so I wanted to do the story and (hopefully) come back to it a little later. I was surprised because I spent the better part of a day trying to get past that mission the last time I played.

Call of Duty WWII

Finished this game (single player) a while back, but I try to dip into the multiplayer (Team Deathmatch) once a week just to try to keep up my CoD skills. I’m probably going to be playing this game for a while because I’m not planning on buying Call of Duty: Black Ops IV (I refuse to use Treyarch’s inane numbering IIII for IV. Not only is it moronic, it also confuses the issue–I’ll probably use 4 from now on when referring to it). I’m not buying the new CoD because I’m not buying multiplayer only games anymore–it must have a single player component to rate a purchase and this one is foregoing the single player mode.

Costume Quest 2

So, I made significant progress on this game. I keep feeling that I’m close to the end on this game. It is actually a larger game than it seems. I now have a “younger version” of the antagonist in my party and I assume the younger version will have a hand in reclaiming/defeating the older version, but I’m not sure when that’s going to happen in terms of the narrative, so I’ll just keep trucking along until I see the End Credits screen. Hopefully I close, but if not, it is an enjoyable game and not a slog, unlike Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon.

Well, that’s all I have time for right now, so I’ll talk to you next week! Have a good weekend and happy gaming/writing!

Sidney




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